Monday, February 18, 2008
McKissack, Patricia C. 2006. Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksteres, and Other Wily Characters. New York: Schwarz and Wade Books. ISBN: 0375836195
This collection takes readers to a swing on a porch, where they can listen in on stories similar to those passed down from generations about schemers who sometimes win and who sometimes get what they deserve. McKissack keeps in the oral tradition of the African-American culture in which she grew up listening to porch lies by telling her own porch lies to an eager audience. She explores characters such as Aunt Gran who cons the cons into protecting her property against white supremacists and Mingo Cass who only carries around a 100 dollar bill, keeping him from ever having to "break" it and pay for anything.
People of all cultures and races can enjoy and identify with the short stories told in this collection. Although the stories are set in an African-American setting, all readers can relate to family members telling stories, often exaggerated, about days gone by. Although the book is fictional, McKissack addresses civil issues that were prevalent in Southern communities during times of racial segregation and strife. She also adds the hope of many of that time that one day the races would be equal by having the white Mis Crickett ride in the front seat with her black chauffeur.
The colloquialism in the story adds to the southern feel, creating the slower-paced southern small community who would take the time to tell stories on the porch. Diaglogue such as,"See, he aine got it" and "Looka here. Looka here" add to the feel of the small town tone of the stories.
I do agree with one review that McKissack could have made a notation to explain the truth of the social setting of the African-American culture within these "lies." While the stories may be fiction, the inequality in the world, especially for African-Americans, was sadly the norm during the time of the stories, and this sobering truth should be pointed out amid the fun stories.
The illustrator's use of black and white colors only in the pictures provide a striking contrast to the colorful and vibrant personalities of the tricksters highlighted in the stories. Andre Carrilho only adds to the story with his understated pictures, which allow the reader to create the colors from the story and not Carrilho's interpretation of the story.
"It would have helped readers unfamiliar with African-American history to have an author's note helping separate the "truth" of these lies that allude to Depression-era African-American and Southern traditions. That aside, they're great fun to read aloud and the tricksters, sharpies, slicksters, and outlaws wink knowingly at the child narrators, and at us foolish humans."-Susan Hepler, formerly at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"As McKissack (The Dark-Thirty) opens this treasure chest of tales, she recalls spending summer evenings on her grandparents' front porch in Nashville, where her grandfather and visitors would share spellbinding "porch lies," comically exaggerated stories that often centered on rogues and rascals." Publishers Weekly
This collection is a great asset in a language arts classroom. The stories can be used to discuss the African-American tradition of passing on stories orally because that was the only means of communication when slavery existed. It can also be used to discuss the difficulties African Americans after the Civil War since the book addresses topics like the Knights who terrorized innocent people like Aunt Gran.
I plan to use this book in my own language arts classroom as examples for my students to write down a story told often in their own families.
Young, Ed. 1989. Lon Po Po: A Read-Riding Hood Story From China. New York: Paperstar. ISBN: 0698113829
Similar to the classic story of Red-Riding Hood, Lon Po Po tells the tale of a wolf disguised as a grandmother, called Po Po in this Chinese tale, to trick innocent children. Set in China, Young adds a variation by having the wolf come to the children's house while the mother is gone. The three sisters become suspicious when they go to bed with Po Po, only to find her different. The girls comment that her foot has a bush on it and that her hand has thorns. Shang, the oldest daughter, figures out that Po Po is a wolf and quickly devises a plan. She and her two sisters convince the wolf that it must have gingko nuts, which can only be enjoyed by climbing the tree and plucking them out. Of course, the wolf cannot do this task and must be lifted by the girls, who proceed to drop the wolf three times, eventually killing him. They then go back to bed and sleep peacefully with a locked door as their mom requested.
The story shines on the ingenuity of a the oldest sister to protect herself and her sisters in the face of danger. Shang creates a strong female heroine, who is quick-thinking and protective of those she loves. The sisters work well together, creating the idea of teamwork as a way to defeat a common enemy. The story follows the Red-Riding story American kids have enjoyed for years, but the illustrations are what set this book apart from the American version and make it distinctively Chinese. The pictures are captivating. The dedication sets the standard high in words and picture by saying, "To all the wolves of the world for lending their good name as a tangible symbol for our darkness." The words are thought-provoking but the picture is amazing. It shadows the outline of a wolf looking at the reader with the outline of a human looking to the right, mixing both man and beast. Suspense is added further by the illustrator when he only shows the shadow of the wolf when "Po Po" is at the door. The illustrations are even more startling by the illustrator's decision to depict only parts of the whole picture. For example, when the wolf is in bed with the children, Young only shows the wolf's eyes, which are brightly colored in contrast to the dark fur of the wolf. The author uses this again by showing only the rope falling from hands as the girls drop the wolf to his death. This simple showing of only part of the picture makes the actions stand out while letting the reader imagine the rest.
"The juxtaposition of abstract and realistic representations, the complicated play of color and shadow, and the depth of the artist's vision all help transform this simple fairy tale into an extraordinary and powerful book." Publishers Weekly
This book would be excellent for two classroom or library uses. First would be to expose children to other cultures. Another connection would be to use it in comparison to the version American kids know well. By reading both, students could see how cultures often have the same stories and tales with slightly different twists depending on their cultures and customs.
Edwards, Pamela Duncan. 1998. Dinorella:A Prehistoric Fairy Tale. New York: Scholastic Inc. ISBN: 0590689487
In Dinorella, Pamela Edwards takes the classic Cinderella story and twists it around for an interesting read. The story follows the same Cinderella story of the poor Dinorella not being able to go to the ball because of being too poor to afford the necessary clothes and jewelry. After the Fairydactyl comes to the rescue, Edwards begins spinning her version of Cinderella. Dinorella is distracted on her way to the ball when she sees the duke being attacked by a deinonychus. Dinorella saves the day and the duke, creating an antithesis to the fairy tale of the damsel in distress being saved by a knight in shining armor. During her heroic save, Dinorella loses a diamond earring with which the duke later identifies her.
The story of Cinderella has been told so many times and is so popular, it is difficult to picture the story another way. However, Edwards adds a inventive twist to the story by having the female character act as the hero in the story. In fairy tales, the women is always in need of being rescued, and so Dinorella's rescue of Duke Dudley was a pleasant surprise.
The book began with a delightful alliteration pattern of words starting with D. Sentences like, "Dusk had fallen when Dinorella heard a deafening disturbance coming from the direction of Duke Dudley's Den" become tongue twisters but keep the reader interested and the text lively. However, as the book went on, it seemed as though the author was searching for words that started with D, resorting to name calling words such as dummy and dimwit. The negative name calling seemed excessive and appeared to be added simply because the words started with the letter D instead of adding to or driving the plot.
The illustrations were creative and definitely added humor to the story. The pictures made me and my children readers laugh out loud at Dinorella putting pantyhose on and the deinonychus putting pickles and ketchup on the duke's tail before eating him. The illustrations also took the place of words for a page spread to show the duke matching the diamond to Dinorella. The picture was vivid enough that no words were needed.
I read the book to my 3-year-old nephew and 7 year-old niece. My nephew loved the dinosaur attacking the duke, but my niece thought the dinosaurs should be nicer and not call names. They both enjoyed the pictures more than the story.
"The cartoon dinosaurs with human expressions are hilarious and the throwaways--one of the big-finned cars sports "X-TNKT/Pangea" vanity plates--will keep even adults on their toes. Edwards's dialogue is a bit trying, but she rewrites the Grimms' tale just enough to make it clever. Dinorella is a fun way to learn a little about fairy tales (with a delightful twist) and alliterative language."--John Sigwald, Unger Memorial Library, School Library Journal
I plan to use this book with my 7th graders to show alliteration. The excessive use of name calling would deter me from using it with elementary students, which is sad because I love the idea of the female heroine in a fairy tale!
Monday, February 4, 2008
Marcus, Leonard. 1998. A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. New York: Walker & Company. ISBN 0802786561
This collection covers six decades of the Caldecott Medal, profiling one artist for each year since the medal's conception in 1938. The book highlights the work of six outstanding artists, giving insight to the artist's method of art, style, and personal background. The following artists are included in the selection: Robert McCloskey, Marcia Brown, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Chris Van Allsburg, and David Wisener. While each artist's style is different, their pictures all captured the attention of children and adults alike.
I must admit that I was unaware and uneducated on the Caldecott award, which is why I picked this book to read. I enjoyed reading the introduction, which gives background information about the award. I found the book overall to be a wonderful collection of examples of the Caldecott award and its importance in children's literature. Today's children are mostly visual learners, making the illustrations in children's book more important than ever. Good illustrators can capture a child's attention and add so much to the storyline. The author's depicted in the book are examples of this, and it is not a coincidence that the books they illustrated, such as Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are, are still popular with kids today.
"A lively, informative introduction to each book and its maker. A beautifully made book, this will serve as a fine resource for children interested in illustration and for teachers researching author/ illustrator studies."Booklist
This book is a great introduction to the Caldecott Medal, especially to new library science students who may be unaware. It would also be a great tool to use in art classes, where students should be exposed to possible jobs in the field of art. In a classroom, the book could help give background information about the illustrator of a book being used in the class. Too often teachers, myself included, focus on the author and not the illustrator when both should be considered and analyzed.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Taback, Simms. 1999. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. New York: Pengion Group. ISBN 0670878553
Joseph has a colorful overcoat that eventually wears out. Intsead of wasting the material, Joseph keeps creating new garments out of the leftover material, including a vest, tie, and finally a button. Through each new garment, Joseph participates in a fun activity like a trip to his sister's and the men's choir performance. When the botton is lost, Joseph writes a story about the series of events, proving that something can be created out of nothing.
3. Critical Analysis:
The first time I read the book, I thought it was inane and silly. It seemed to be a bland topic and a jump in thoughts from an overcoat to a book. After I read it a few more times, I began to see the cadence mentioned in the review from the School Library Journal although I still think of the topic to be quite blaze. The redeeming qualities of the book are the cut outs that give hints of the next garment Joseph will make out of the overcoat and the illustrations.
The illustrations are awesome. The expressionism of the pictures add to the story. Joseph is seen in the pictures as a fun and colorful guy. While the words are redundant, the pictures bring the story to life by filling in the blanks between the words. While the words say that Joseph danced at his nephew's wedding, the pictures show us how the bride is wearing a mismatched patchwork dress instead of the typical white dress. It is these vibrant and rich illustrations that balance out the simple sentences of the narrative.
I read the book to my six-year-old neice and my three-year-old nephew. They both loved the illustrations and kept talking about the people's colorful clothes. My nephew said the characters looked silly, and my niece's first response was,"Why didn't he just get a new coat?" This comment gave us a springboard into discussing why it is important not to waste.
The following review is from the School Library Journal:
"Taback adapted this tale from a Yiddish folk song and the music and English lyrics are appended. The rhythm and repetition make it a perfect storytime read-aloud."-Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ontario, Canada Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
This book could be used in elementary schools for a discussion about not wasting. It is also a fun example of expressionism that could be used in the middle school art classroom.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Nolen, Jerdine. 2003. Thunder Rose. Ill. by Kadir Nelson. New York: Silver Whistle Harcourt. 9780152060060
Rose is born an extraordinary child, the first child born free to Jackson and Millicent. She spoke at birth and even names herself. As she grew, she continued to perform amazing feats such as twisting wire to create barbed wire. When a drought threatens her community, Rose is called into action. She uses her strength to lasso the clouds, causing them to drop rain. Although the rain helps a little, her actions cause tornadoes to threaten the cattle and town even more. Rose must use the song within her that she learned at birth, a song passed down through the generations of slaves, to calm the storm without.
3. Critical Analysis:
The story is intended for elementary students, but it packs a middle school punch with vocabulary. The story is written in an enjoyable read, but it would be difficult for a young student to read on his or her own. As I read the book to my 6-year-old niece, she often stopped me to ask me what a word or two meant. However, she enjoyed the story and thought Rose was a "funny girl to sing to the clouds."
The illustrations by Mr. Nelson add more to the story than the words at times. The scene is a dry and desert place, so the pictures are often beige and brown colors. However, the sky and parts of Rose's clothes are colored in a vibrant blue. It is a contrast that shows not only the setting of the story but the hope of a new life for this first born free child.
4. Review Excerpts:
"The watercolor, oil, and pencil illustrations capture the Wild West vistas, the textures of grass and homespun cloth, and the character's personalities, even that of Tater, Rose's trusty steer. Best of all, however, is Rose herself, the color of polished mahogany, with enough sass and savvy to overcome any obstacle. A terrific read-aloud."
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This book would be an excellent resource in a history class either during Black History Month or as part of the reading for the study of American history. It could be used to spark discussion and research about the lives of thousands of suddenly free slaves after the Civil War.